Name: Peggie D. Sherry
Diagnosed At Age: 45
Status: Healthy and Living Life Out Loud
Bio: For the past 15 years, Peggy has been running camps for women, children and families touched by all types of cancers. Three years after she started this work, she was diagnosed with breast cancer in the left breast. Six months later, cancer was back, this time two types of breast cancer in both breasts. When the cancer came back, the cancer camp Peggy was running decided that she could not run the programs and go through the treatment at the same time and closed the office. About a month after her double mastectomy (in 2003) she started a new charity called Faces of Courage. To date, they have had more than 4,000 campers through programs with the help of more than 900 volunteers.
My reaction when I was first diagnosed: During a board meeting, my husband called to say that my doctor had been leaving messages on our home phone. He knew something was wrong since the doctor was calling from home on her day off. I walked out of the meeting to call her. When I walked back into the board meeting one of the members said, “There is a $5 fine for letting your phone ring in meetings.” I truly wished I could have seen my face. It must have been priceless.
Like most people, I think you just go numb with fear. All words after “You have cancer” just rolled off me like water off a duck’s back. Everything moves so fast, and you have a hard time processing it all. Once the numbness started to wear off, it was important to me to listen to my gut and to stop and ask questions.
How I’m feeling now: Once you are diagnosed with cancer, I think there are stages you go through. For the first two years you are a “striver.” You are striving to find the right medical team and the best treatment. After two years, you truly are a “survivor.” You have survived the worst of it, and you struggle to find your new normal. No one ever goes back to being who they were before the words “You have cancer.” After five years, you should be at the point of being a “thriver.” That is when you realize that you have met the devil face to face and lived to talk about it. Each day is a new day, each new day is a gift you were not promised. I am a Thriver!
My inspirations: Since I run camps for women and children with all types of cancer, I am most inspired by the stage four ladies who never give up. Many times doctors make the horrible mistake of guessing how long a patient has to live and then gives that dire news to the patients. I just love the patients who take that date as a challenge and surpass their doctors awful predictions.
My support system: is huge. All cancer survivors have a huge support team if they only open their eyes and look. Everyone who has been through cancer has a cellular connection to other survivors. If you stood in a room full of people and say “I have/had cancer,” you would be surprised at how many others would share their stories. They are your support system.
I’m proud of: the fact that 11 years ago when I was going through a series of surgeries I promised myself and my maker that I would never complain about washing dishes or doing laundry ever again if I could just get well enough to do them. To this day doing those routine tasks brings me immense joy.
I’m afraid of: nothing.
I’ve learned: that there is nothing worse than hearing the words “you have cancer.” Well, you don’t hear the words “she’s dead.” So what could you possibly fear? Flying? Speaking in front of a large group? Wearing the wrong outfit? Nothing should ever frighten you again. Embrace a fearless life.
My advice to new patients: You are in charge of your treatment. If you don’t love your doctor and trust him with your life, fire him. You hired him, and you can fire him. Don’t be afraid to speak up and ask for what you need and want. Also, ask for help before you have to beg for help. People want to help and don’t know how to help. Tell them what you really need….even if it is only to walk the dog. Don’t jump off any bridges until you can see the water. An 87-year-old camper called me a month ago and told me her doctors thought her cancer was back and they had set an appointment to do all the latest scans and blood work. We talked for a while and I told her that until the scans come back she cannot worry about it. “When you have the results then we will figure out the next steps” I told her. A week later (before the results came back) she was coming home from her night classes and as she got off the bus she was run over and killed. Thankfully, she was living her life to the fullest at that moment.